Earlier this week we heard from Rebecca Allen, one of our Mental Health in the Workplace trainers, who now leads a semi-retired life in Norfolk, despite only being in her early 40’s.
We read about her mental breakdown after her work-related stress got on top of her, which was followed by a cancer diagnosis that changed her life forever.
Today, on day four of Mental Health Awareness week, 2019, we are privileged to have Rebecca return with her second blog sharing the survival techniques that enabled her to climb back from rock bottom.
Over to you Rebecca!
You’ll have read in my earlier article From Breakdown to Breakthrough … an HR Director’s Story about my simultaneous cancer diagnosis and mental breakdown. Fun times – NOT.
The doctors around me were spending a lot of time concentrating on my physical body being broken, but I asked them to help me also fix my mind and attitude simultaneously. My GP introduced me to a wonderful therapist, who explained to me what I’m about to explain to you.
It literally blew my mind, and I realised I was able to turn my life around…I couldn’t control the cancer, I couldn’t control the work related stress, but I could control how I responded to it.
It changed my attitude towards my health and my lifestyle, and I’m delighted to tell you that I went on to get the all-clear from the horrid Cancer, which gave me a new lease of life. I was so inspired by what I had been taught that I decided to give up my career in HR and re-train as a psychotherapist and change my lifestyle, helping others change theirs too.
Breakdown Survival Techniques – Climbing Back from Rock Bottom
Here’s how I regained control of the uncontrollable:
TAKE POSITIVE ACTION
If you’ve ever had to go through the absolute hell of hearing the words, “You have cancer” you’ll be only too familiar with the scenarios that go through your brain.
Within hours of my diagnosis, I had decided I was going to die (yes, the brain goes in to worse case scenario and can’t rationalise or be logical as it has the intellectual capacity of a toddler!) and I knew I couldn’t control the cancer, so had to decide whether to lay down and submit, or stand up and fight it. What I did know, from learning about neuroscience, is that I needed to focus on what I could control.
So, I knew I had to do something that felt like positive action.
1) I began by organising the filing cabinet in my study, so that in the event of my death (yup, I was still being irrational and emotional, but was working hard to regain control of my primitive mind!) my family would know where everything was kept; from random things like when my next MOT was due on the car, as well as where all my insurance paperwork was filed so that at least my funeral could be paid for. If I could have organised the buffet and the music playlist for that funeral I would have, but I knew my brain needed to stay rational, so I just saw it as an opportunity to be more organised, ready for when I later regained my health.
2) The primitive brain, remembering that it has the intellectual decision-making ability of a 4-year-old, just couldn’t help itself from taking everything out of context. I knew that my intellectual brain had to take over to keep me sane, so I decided to look at some numbers to put things in to context.
For example, I looked at the amount of days I had cancer and calculated that as a percentage of the amount of days I had been alive, bearing in mind that was 40 years old. I looked at the measurements of my tumours and calculated that as a percentage of the size of my whole body (I’m a tall girl!)…slowly but surely, my intellectual brain realised this cancer was literally nothing to me; merely a dot on the landscape of an otherwise brilliant life. I was not going to let this take over and beat me!
3) I also knew that because my body was flooded with cortisol (our stress hormone), that had kept my bruised immune system in fight or flight mode and I knew I had to detox this from my system.
Remembering that our second brain is in our gut, I embarked upon a detox programme, in consultation with the medics, and literally within days my brain was flooded with water, which lifted the fog (seriously, go pour yourself a drink before taking a pill, it’s magical!) and my brain started to release the positive neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, as well as BDNF, which we say is like miracle-grow for the brain!
ENGAGE IN POSITIVE THOUGHT
I was conscious that my brain was going in to “What If…” scenarios, which of course is a natural protection mechanism. However, I knew that my brain couldn’t tell the difference between imagination and reality, so every time I imagined a “What if I die” scenario then the brain thought that was happening in real life.
So, I knew I had to engage in positive thought.
4) I had to turn this around, and again take control, so I then forced myself to only think about the positive “What ifs”, like what if I get through this, what if I do get to take my God-daughter to school when she’s old enough, what if I do regain my health? I decided to turn this around, focusing on what I did want, rather than on what I didn’t
Before I knew it my brain felt stronger and able to imagine all the right things during such a dark time.
FOCUS ON POSITIVE INTERACTION
I knew that due to our primitive brain not having evolved much since cavemen times, I knew that we operate better as a tribe. It was sooo tempting to retreat into my cave and hide under my bearskin rug until the threat of the polar bear/sabretooth tiger/tumours had just magically disappeared.
So, I focused on creating positive interaction.
5) I knew I needed to feel oxytocin, our love hormone, so I surrounded myself with loved ones. I remember waiting for a phone call that was due at 1pm from the hospital. I gathered together my closest family, and we literally huddled for hours as a tribe in our cave, filling the time with mindless chatter, comforting food and Disney movies! Yes we cried, yes our hearts were in our mouths when the phone call came, but yes we were so much stronger together, than I could ever have been alone.
CREATE THE FUTURE
When I finally got the all clear, I made a pact with myself about all the aspects of my life that needed to change. Remembering that the brain can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality, I sat for hours literally designing what my new wonderful life would look like.
Within 48 hours I had resigned from my well paid job, committed to building my hypnotherapy practice, and had met the man of my dreams; all of which I would not have been ready for, had I still been living in my primitive brain.
About Rebecca Allen – Mental Health Educator
Rebecca was an HR Director for 20 years in the corporate sector, during which time she ran her own successful national consultancy business. She then faced several traumatic setbacks, including a diagnosis of cervical cancer, which accumulated and led to her having a mental breakdown in her late 30’s.
Since then, she has developed a passion for Mental Health Education, and works tirelessly to show other people, who may have been just like her, that they can get through the darkest of times. Her story is moving; hard-hitting at times, but hugely inspirational motivating audiences to move forward with their own mental health issues, or those of people around them, using our modern neuroscientific Solution Focussed approach.
IS YOUR ORGANISATION DOING ENOUGH
To Promote Positive Mental Health At Work?
Find out by taking our quick Mental Health At Work Quiz
This short quiz will take you through the six areas of ‘work design’ that highlight the primary sources of stress at work that, when not managed well, are associated with poor mental health and can lead to increased absenteeism and presenteeism, resulting in reduced creativity, productivity and results.